Porto is an eclectic mix of old and new, a city struggling to come to terms with tourism and money needed to facilitate it. You are just as likely to see a brand new building as you are to see a falling down house in a major tourist area. What to see in Porto, who knows!
At times, it looks like the third world but I would prefer to call that old world charm. Porto is essentially unique and a realistic look into a traditional Portuguese city that does not have the polish of Lisbon but has something equally invaluable and that is its character. There are so many things to do in Porto. Make sure you tick off some of our 5 things not to miss in Porto
- Porto is the second largest urbanized area in Portugal
- Porto has a Population of 1.8 million people in its Urban area.
- In Portuguese the name of the city is spelled “o Porto“
- Porto’s most famous export is Port Wine, to which the city gives its name.
- One of the most traditional dishes of Porto is the ‘Tripas à Moda do Porto”. In the 15th century, the people of Porto gave a great quantity of meat to the military forces, keeping only tripe (tripas) for themselves. This is the reason why the people of Porto are called ‘Tripeiros’
5 things not to miss in Porto: Cruise on The Duoro River
As a part of the hop on hop off bus pass, we had a free short cruise on the Duoro River included. The mighty Douro runs from near Duruelo de la Sierra in Soria Province and meets the Atlantic Ocean at Porto.The Douro is one of the major rivers on the Iberian Peninsular stretching for nearly 900 kilometres.
Traditionally the Douro was used to transport wine to Porto from the Douro Valley. Daming of the river in the ’50s and ’60s has since stopped Port Wine being transported this way. The Duoro is now popular with cruise companies like AAPT etc.
A short cruise on the Douro is also great you get to see the magnificent Porto bridges up close and personal as you cruise underneath them admiring the architecture. You feel so small when travelling underneath these bridges as they span a gorge that’s over 100 metres deep in parts.
Great views of the Porto Old Town as it rises sharply up the hill are to be had on one side of the river while on the other side the famous winemaking houses that still store Port in caves the traditional way can be seen. A short cruise on the Douro should be on any Porto itinerary
Family Travel Tip: The boats are well equipped with plenty of seats and some even have toilets. You can sit inside or out, whatever you chose. If you are travelling on a nice sunny day I suggest you grab some extra bottles of water before you head off. Also if you have a water lover like we do be careful of the water splashing over the sides, it was amazingly attractive to our 7-year-old!
5 things not to miss in Porto: Porto Old Town
The Historical Centre or Old Town of Porto was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. Porto is one of the oldest centres in Europe. The settlement dates back centuries to when the city was an outpost of the once mighty Roman Empire.
Originally Porto was named, Portus Cale, a combined Celtic-Latin name that has often been referred to as the origin of the name ‘Portugal’. The banks of the Porto Old Town are alive with restaurants selling fresh fish and the local wines, street performers juggling and singing will entertain you.
The steep incline of the Old Town area will test your weary muscles after a day of sightseeing. Porto is an amazing town part original, part modern. It sometimes gives you the sense that it’s a shanty town in decay. The old town is the top Porto attraction
I say it’s very Portuguese when I try to describe it to people. It’s certainly on the tourist trail but not fully developed like other cities you visit, it still feels authentic and would not be out of place in its current form hundreds of years ago.
Family Travel Tip: Having a pram will be hard on some of these steep paths. If you do have a carrier and putting the baby in that, take it easy and rest when you need to. Little ones may struggle with the steep paths. There is a funicular that takes down to the river. Our kids loved it and the view is amazing as the river and bridges come into sharp view.
5 things not to miss in Porto: The Bridges of Porto
When you see a picture of Porto, it is most likely a picture of one of the cities many bridges. Porto bridges are iconic symbols of the city and its amazing bridges hold many world records. 7 bridges have spanned the Douro in modern times, 6 are still in use today.
Dom Luis 1 bridge is the most famous bridge in Porto (pictured above). Designed by Teófilo Seyrig, Seyrig was a pupil of Gustav Eiffel of the Eiffel Tower fame. The Dom Luis bridge was opened in 1886 and comprises of 2 overlapping iron decks. This masterpiece is 395 metres long and 8 metres wide. The Metal arch is still considered to be the world’s biggest arc ever constructed of forged iron.
Today the top deck is used for trams and tourists. Maria Pia was designed by Gustav Eiffel. Maria Pia was opened to the public 1877. Eiffel’s bridge was a faithful servant to the people of Porto for 114 years.
Maria Pia has a double-hinged arch that supports a single-track railway deck on truss pillars. The Portuguese Government classified Eiffel’s Porto masterpiece as a national monument in 1982. Eiffel’s design was ahead of its time.
Maria Pia gained its international recognition in 1999 as being of historical importance to civil engineering. Maria Pia has not been operational since 1991. I could go on forever about these amazing structures in Porto. Hence, this is why Porto is sometimes referred to as the city of 7 bridges.
Top things to do in Porto Portugal – Wine tasting
People who love their wine are extremely lucky that they can taste the best of Portuguese wine in Porto. There is no need to take a trip to the Douro Valley of you don’t want to. On the opposite side of the river to Porto is Gaia. Gaia (Gaia is part of the municipality of Porto) is home to the famous wine houses and wine caves of Porto. The wine companies of the region age the wines they produce in the Douro region in cellars, in old wooden barrels in the wine caves of Porto. It has been done this way for hundreds of years. The only change is the wine is not brought downstream by traditional boats anymore.
These companies have guided tours and tastings of different varieties of the Port wine, where you can learn about its history. In Avenida Diogo Leite, you will find Calém. By the river, you can visit Sandeman and Espaço Porto Cruz a multimedia centre showcasing Port wine. Ramos Pinto and Ferreira wine cellars are located in Avenida Ramos Pinto.
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Further up the hill, other Port wine cellars are located particularly Offley and Taylor’s (Fladgate & Yeatman), both in Rua do Choupelo. Most of these tours provide you with some history of the company, a few free samples accompanied by either some cheese or chocolate and a chance to buy yourself an original bottle of port from Porto. Port houses to visit in Porto are a must and a big part of Porto’s Culture
Family Travel Tip: When we looked into doing a wine tour most of the tours were happy with the girls coming along with us. Just check the website or with the company before you go to avoid disappointment.
5 things not to miss in Porto: The Porto Coastline
Stretching out from the centre of the old town of Porto towards the ocean is the Porto coastline. Along this section, you will find secluded rocky Porto beaches with people sunbathing, swimming and playing ball. Family-friendly swimming area’s with lifeguards are everywhere. You will find promenades that you can stroll along while watching the ships in the Atlantic ocean and the waves hitting the beaches.
You can have a meal or a drink at many of the wonderful cafes that sit right on the sands of the Portuguese coast. You can buy amazing churros from street vendors filled with chocolate and jam. You can visit the many fortifications that once helped protect the city of Porto from foreign fighters. You see the amazing sea creatures that live in the Atlantic ocean at the Sealife aquarium. The Porto beaches area was amazing
Family Travel Tip: The paths are quite wide in this area so getting the pram out and about will be a great idea. Bike riding for older kids is popular while stretching the little one’s legs with a play on the beach will be fantastic for them.
We hope you find our 5 things not to miss in Porto helpful for planning a trip to Porto Portugal
Where to stay in Porto
When we were in Porto we stayed at the comfortable Hotel Do Norte. Centrally located close to shops and restaurants. Located 100 meters from public transport on the line from the airport. Hotel Do Norte had rooms for doubles and families. For more information on Hotel, Do Norte click here
For more accommodation option in Porto we recommend search the booking.com interactive map below for hotels, hostels and aprtments
How to get to Porto
Porto Airport It is located 11 km (6.8 mi) northwest of the Clérigos Tower in the centre of Porto. It is the second busiest airport in Portugal. Low cost carriers such as Eayjet, Ryanair and Veuling service the airport while full cost Carriers such as TAP Portugal and Air Portugal also fly in regually
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The main roads in Portugal are smooth and easy to drive on. You can reach Porto easily from Lisbon and Spain by car. We recommend using public transport once in the city of Porto.
You can travel to Porto easily by train from Lisbon and Madrid. Most long-distance trains arrive and depart from the picturesque Porto Campanhã train station. The journey time from Lisbon to Porto is around 3 hours with ticket prices starting at 11 Euros.
Travel from Madrid Spain to Porto there are 2 options. Overnight train or day train, both with different routes. Day train best option is to catch a train to Vigo Spain then the highspeed train into Madrid. While the overnight sleeper can be caught via Lisbon or Coimbra.
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About the Author
Mark Wyld is a father, Husband and traveller. Having been to over 30 countries worldwide I think I know a thing or 2 about travelling with kids. I have been writing about travel on our website for the last 4 years and have featured on numerous other websites. When I am not talking, dreaming and planning travel I can be found working in disability support